¡Hola de Barcelona! We’re at Mobile World Congress now and are already inspired by what we’re hearing in keynote sessions. On Monday, a session titled Innovating for Inclusion covered how “mobile is helping to bridge the digital divide by delivering essential services where they are most needed as well as providing access to other important online products and services.” We’ve long been encouraged by technology that leverages basic mobile handsets to create real change in a community or even a country. Here are some of our favorite examples of citizens and companies working together to fill application, information and resource gaps:

  • Through Txteagle, billions have found work as survey takers and translators. This Boston-based startup built a platform atop the protocol used on GSM phones – yes, the brick you may have carried back in the 1990s or early 2000s – that the United Nations uses to survey specific populations and Nokia uses to request translations from English into local east African dialects. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage users to become content creators and publish online, filling the relevancy gap that many developing communities often face when first accessing the Internet.
  • In a similar vein, Control Union, an international provider of agricultural inspection and safety services, is using GeoPoll, the world’s largest mobile survey platform, to collect data from hard-to-reach populations. The aim of this recent partnership is to reach small-holding farmers in Africa to “bring them into the global supply chain network while ensuring compliance with standard business practices.” The companies believe that these programs will have a deep impact on Africa’s agriculture industry, and establish best practices for the expansion of food safety standards across the world.
  • In coastal Bangladesh, home to 50 million people or one-third of the country’s population, an SMS can mean the difference between life and death. According to the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio Communication (BNNRC), community radio stations receive an average of 500 SMS messages a day to update broadcasters on weather conditions. This provides valuable real-time information that could save lives during a cyclone, a devastating natural disaster that occurs with tragic regularity in the region.
  • In addition to engaging with the weatherman, innovations in mobile have helped people safely and securely bypass setting up a bank account in fulfilling financial responsibilities. Vodafone M-Pesa began in Kenya and Tanzania as a mobile-phone-based money transfer and microfinancing service. Since its launch in 2007, it has expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa, India and Eastern Europe to allow users to securely wire money to their loved ones, pay a water bill and even earn interest on deposits without the assistance of traditional banking channels.

Of course, none of these applications would be possible without reliable networks to relay the data. Here too, we have read of companies and citizens taking matters into their own hands: Residents of San Juan Yaee in rural Oaxaca, Mexico don’t have access to cellular networks, so they built their own – including a cell tower welded together out of scrap metal by the town blacksmith. The cellular network came together through a partnership between a Oaxaca-based telecommunications non-profit called Rhizomatica, Raúl Hernández Santiago, the blacksmith, and open-source equipment from NuRAN and Fairwaves.

It’s thrilling to read such a clear-cut example of how network technologies and capabilities that were once reserved for wealthy, multinational companies are now within the reach of every person on the planet. Making communications networks more powerful is what we do every day, and we’re showing our latest breakthroughs in fixed wireless connectivity at Mobile World Congress. If you’re in town, feel free to come see us at Stand 7B41 in Hall 7.

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